CEDAR CITY — During the second act of Stones in His Pockets, the two main characters—who are extras on a Hollywood film that is being shot on location in their Irish hometown—think of an idea for a movie of their own. Tired of the Hollywood phonies around them, they decide to make a movie that has a different focus, “so that the stars become the extras and the extras become the stars.” These words from Marie Jones’s script are the perfect description of Stones in His Pockets, a play very much focused on the “little people” involved in film production.
All of the roles in Stones in His Pockets are played by Utah Shakespeare Festival artistic directors Brian Vaughn and David Ivers. Vaughn plays Charlie, the out-of-towner who used to run a video rental store before a big box chain ran him out of business. Charlie adores movies, and is thrilled to actually be a part of one. Not only does he love the glamor of working with movie stars; it gives him an opportunity to try to sell his screenplay. Charlie’s position as a stranger, both in the town and in film production, makes him feel insecure about his life course as he recovers from a series of failures. Vaughn was excellent in his portrayal of this beaten-down-but-not-broken man, whose sunny optimism was infectious, even as events in the production of the film turn sour. Vaughn’s body language in the pub scene when the star actress, Caroline, is eying his table and the way Charlie handles the rejection when she’s not interested in him, is precious. The scene is a microcosm of how Charlie has likely handled the many disappointments he’s experienced for the previous few decades, and Vaughn played it beautifully.
Ivers’s Jake is a local who has also seen his share of failures. Jake lived in America for a few years, but only found work in bar and restaurant jobs and was generally dissatisfied with his experience here. Burdened with the shame of living as a grown man with his mother, Jake feels cynical about the future. Ivers makes it clear that Jake is disillusioned with life, but not enough to do much about it. Jake’s acceptance of the fact that he’s not very special (something told to him by the minor, yet dramatically important, character Sean Harkin) was deftly played by Ivers. In the scene, Ivers seemed to stoop a little bit more, lose a little bit of energy, and generally communicate non-verbally that Jake already knew what he was being told.
Both Ivers and Vaughn played their minor roles well, especially the female roles of Caroline Giovanni (Vaughn) and Aisling (Ivers), which were hilarious to watch. I laughed heartily every time Vaughn instantly switched into a feminine “I’m sexy and I know it” posture when he slipped into the persona of Caroline. Ivers’s performance as Aisling, the third assistant director on the film, was charming because she was a woman who was moving up in her career, but frustrated that she was still a pretty low person on the totem pole.
Director J. R. Sullivan handled the production exceptionally well. Sullivan ensured that the actors’ transitions to different characters were always clear and unambiguous. Yet, Sullivan kept the switches fresh throughout the entire two-hour run of the performance. Some switches were accomplished by changes in lighting, others by sound effects, and still others simply with changes in blocking or body language of the actors. A lesser director would have found just one or two ways to have the actors switch characters, so I was pleased when new switching methods were still appearing during the second act. Sullivan also handled the script’s flashbacks and other storytelling techniques in a way that didn’t seem confusing to a me, a newcomer to the show.
I’m disappointed, though, by the script itself. While the story is quite humorous and at moments touching, I don’t detect anything special or unique in Marie Jones’s script. There are many movies and TV shows out there about shallow Hollywood inhabitants who lack empathy (e.g., 30 Rock, Extras). There are dozens of plays and films about average Joes who deal with disappointments in life (e.g., Death of a Salesman). I don’t think that Stones in His Pockets gives the viewer anything new to say about these situations. This isn’t to say it’s a bad script, just not novel. Also, the prospect of having two actors play all the roles was fun to watch (and certainly more successful than The 39 Steps, when Ivers and Vaughn did the same thing). But it’s just a gimmick. A production of Stones in His Pockets with a cast of 15 would be nearly the exact same show that it is with a cast of two.
Visually, this is a very pleasing production. Jaymi Lee Smith‘s lighting design is pleasant, but really becomes powerful during the scenes that occur during the actual filming. Accompanied by the sound design and music of Lindsay Jones, these moments in the play are so visually distinct that it’s unmistakeable that the audience is viewing them through the filter of a camera. R. Eric Stone’s set design is simple and fluid, which is absolutely necessary for this play, but has nice subtle touches (such as the row of shoes upstage) that quietly reminded me of the rural setting of the production. But that same rural setting makes all of the visual elements of the play subdued and sometimes drab (especially in David Kay Mickelsen‘s costumes). This is certainly not a flashy play, but it’s not supposed to be.
Is seeing Stones in His Pockets worth the trip to Cedar City? Thanks to the performances of David Ivers and Brian Vaughn, the answer is an unequivocal yes. The emotional core of the story is relevant, even if the script left me a little disappointed.